The Gaza Strip is facing a severe humanitarian crisis as hospital facilities have been greatly reduced, according to the World Health Organization.
Dr. Richard Peeperkorn, the representative of WHO in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, briefed reporters on the situation in Gaza. He described the overcrowded corridors of Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, where doctors are treating patients on the floor due to a lack of resources such as fuel, oxygen, food, and water.
In a span of only 66 days of conflict, the Strip has undergone a drastic change from having a “reasonably functioning health system” and producing health statistics comparable to neighboring countries. Currently, Dr. Peeperkorn reports that over two thirds of the Strip’s 36 hospitals and over 70% of its primary health care facilities are no longer operational.
Christian Lindmeier, a spokesperson for WHO, informed journalists in Geneva that Gaza’s health authorities stated that the Kamal Adwan Hospital in the northern region was being evacuated against the will of the patients on Tuesday morning. According to reports, there are 68 patients at the hospital, including 18 in intensive care and six newborns, as well as numerous displaced individuals seeking refuge. The hospital has been under siege by Israeli troops and tanks for several days, with reports of armed conflicts in the nearby area, as stated by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). On Monday, it was reported that the maternity department of the hospital was struck during shelling, resulting in the deaths of two mothers.
Task filled with ‘severe occurrences’.
Due to the urgent humanitarian situation in the destroyed northern region of Gaza, Al-Ahli Hospital is facing a severe shortage of staff. According to Dr. Peeperkorn, the hospital currently has over 200 patients, but only enough resources to care for 40. As a result, the medical staff are unable to perform vascular operations and are resorting to amputations as a last resort in order to save lives.
The United Nations health agency reported that a team led by the World Health Organization, along with the Palestine Red Crescent Society, faced significant challenges while attempting to transport surgical and trauma supplies to a hospital and transfer 19 critically ill patients and their companions to the Nasser Medical Complex in southern Gaza on Saturday.
Detention at gunpoint
Dr. Peeperkorn outlined the many challenges encountered during this mission, such as undergoing inspections at the Wadi Gaza Israeli military checkpoint while traveling north. During this checkpoint, two PRCS employees were held for more than an hour. The UN health agency released a statement on Tuesday reporting that “WHO staff witnessed one of them being forced to kneel at gunpoint and then removed from sight, where he allegedly experienced harassment, physical assault, and a strip search.”
The medical professional from the WHO emphasized that it is not permissible to detain individuals who are part of a medical mission. They also highlighted the importance of timely execution of these critical humanitarian missions.
Upon arriving in north Gaza, Dr. Peeperkorn noted that the area now resembles a wasteland. The humanitarians were met with surprise from people on the street, as there has been limited aid access to the northern part of the enclave for several months.
Upon reaching Gaza City, a truck carrying medical supplies and one of the ambulances in the convoy were struck by bullets, according to WHO. On the return journey to southern Gaza, while transporting patients from Al-Ahli Hospital, the convoy was once again halted at the same checkpoint. PRCS staff and most of the patients were required to exit the ambulances for security inspections.
The armed soldiers searched the critical patients who were still in the ambulances. One of the same two PRCS staff who were previously detained on their way in was detained for a second time. This caused significant delays. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that during the transfer, one of the injured patients died due to their untreated wounds, according to the PRCS.
Following his release later that evening, due to collaborative efforts from the United Nations, the PRCS employee reported that he had suffered physical abuse and embarrassment. He was then forced to walk towards the southern region with his hands still restrained and without proper attire or footwear.
The protection of the health system is imperative.
On Tuesday, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, shared his worry on social media platform X regarding the extended screenings and detainment of healthcare workers, which endangers the lives of vulnerable patients.
He firmly stated that the residents of Gaza deserve the right to healthcare and that the healthcare system should be safeguarded, even during times of conflict.
Increasing prevalence of illness
According to Dr. Peeperkorn, the displacement in the Strip has affected 1.9 million people, most of whom are Gaza’s residents. The conditions in overcrowded shelters, such as inadequate sanitation, have resulted in a significant rise in diseases. This includes over 60,000 cases of diarrhea in children under five and over 160,000 cases of acute respiratory infections. There has also been an increase in scabies, skin rashes, chicken pox, and even meningitis. Additionally, there has been a rise in severe trauma and spinal injuries.
In the meantime, healthcare professionals do not have access to essential supplies and are primarily concerned about the well-being of their loved ones.
The official from the World Health Organization emphasized the importance of restoring functionality to the primary healthcare system and reintroducing services such as maternal and child health, obstetric care, treatment for non-communicable diseases, oncology, and mental health support.
Additional beds are required at the Rafah hospital.
In southern Gaza, Dr. Peeperkorn referred to as the “core” of the region’s healthcare, the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Qatari Red Crescent Society are working together to set up a field hospital in Rafah governorate. According to WHO, the hospital will have 50 beds and necessary facilities such as an operating room, intensive care unit, reception and radiology.
The United Nations health organization emphasized the significance of increasing hospital space in the territory. As reported by Gaza’s health officials, only 1% of Palestinians wounded in the conflict, approximately 400 individuals, have been transferred out of Gaza for medical treatment via the Rafah border crossing.
Around 50,000 individuals have been harmed in Gaza since October 7th, with approximately 8,000 of them needing immediate medical assistance, according to a statement from the World Health Organization (WHO).